The squadron of Tuhellenbach hussars who threatened the position from the west had been blooded in the dismounted action but they were by no means finished. Colonel Brabenachel saw that plainly as they withdrew toward their army’s main column. He brushed off an orderly who was attempting to bind the wound in his arm and headed instead for the churchyard gate. “We shall have to move fast, Walschen,” he told the platoon commander, a worried looking junior lieutenant. “Those other hussars must be cleared away from the street if we are to withdraw safely. Take your platoon and see to it.” Seeing the young man’s emotions written plain in his face Brabenachel clapped him on the shoulder. “Cheer up! If you’d wanted a safe job you should’ve become a lawyer.”
That brought a smile to Walschen’s lips even if he did still look pale. “My father said much the same thing, sir,” he replied then drew himself up and saluted. “With your permission?”
The platoon formed up swiftly as orders were barked. Brabenachel noticed at least one man had swapped his tricorn for a captured hussar busby and had stuck a lilac bloom plucked from a bush near the gate under the bag. The effect looked rather absurd. “Jokers!” he muttered fondly as they trotted out onto the street and formed a line.
Further up the street near the corner the scattering of hussars fired their carbines. The range was long but one of his men dropped. The others gave a deep growl of anger but remained under control, stepping forward smartly at the command with their firelocks at the high port. “Plato-o-oon halt!” Lieutenant Walschen snapped when they’d moved some twenty paces. “Present your firelocks! Shoulder your firelocks! Aim! Fire!”
The volley crashed out, flooding the street with thick yellow-white smoke. Before the wind swept the cloud across his vision Colonel Brabenachel saw it had been a telling volley. At least a dozen of the enemy were down and out of the fight. But Walschen wasn’t finished yet. “At ‘em boys! Charge!”
With a roar the platoon charged up the street and through the thinning musket smoke, their iron hobnailed boots striking sparks from the cobbles. The hussars had had enough. They didn’t stand to contest the issue, preferring instead to take to their heels and seek their mounts.
Satisfied that all was under control Colonel Brabenachel turned his attention to the next problem. The enemy’s main column was much closer now. There’s barely enough time, but we can do this! He thought.
* * *
Privates Kleiner and Träger of the Sobelsburg Jager hunkered down behind a shattered wall and peered out at the gunboats on the river. “Those bloody things are putting a real crimp in our plans,” Kleiner grumbled, trying to force more of his great bulk into the scant cover. “There’s no way the others can get across now.”
“Never mind the others, you great clown!” Träger snapped. “How the bleedin’ hell are we going to get over?” One of the gunboats fired and the two men ducked. Somewhere just out of sight a great rumbling and a cloud of dust announced the final collapse of a house under the onslaught.
“Where’s the Old Man?” Kleiner demanded, looking around for their sergeant.
Träger jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “Back there, talking to the lieutenant.”
“What good will that do?” Kleiner scoffed. “He’s still wet behind the ears.”
“Yeah, but he’s learning. The Sarge will take care of him.” Träger peered over the wall. “I can see the others!” He pointed across the river to the street leading down to the bridge. “That’s Schmidt’s platoon!”
“About bleedin’ time!” Kleiner leapt to his feet and waved his musket over his head. “Over here, you useless bastards!”
His movement drew a flurry of musket shots from the gunboats as Träger dragged him back into cover. “You stupid great lump! Do you want to get killed?”
“I won’t get killed,” Klenier grinned as bullets smacked into the other side of the wall. “A gypsy told me I’ll die in bed aged ninety-three after a night of passion with a pastor’s twenty-year-old daughter.”
“A gypsy?” Träger cocked his head and narrowed his eyes in thought. “Where was this?”
“In the camp outside Sobelsburg.”
“Do you mean that raddled old hag in the brown dress with the big wart on her nose that was hanging around the quartermaster’s stores?” Kleiner nodded and ducked as a piece of brick bounced off his helmet. Träger rolled his eyes. “She’s no gypsy! That was Corporal Brun’s mother making some extra cash out of saps like you!”
Kleiner looked at him wide-eyed. “You mean she was a fake?” Träger twisted his lips and just looked at him. Kleiner risked a glance over the wall. “Oh hell! Run!”
Without asking why Träger took to his heels and followed Kleiner as he bounded over the broken ground, legs pumping. Behind them the wall disintegrated under the impact of a six pound roundshot.
* * *
Colonel Brabenachel summoned his two companies and formed them up across the road and facing the enemy. With their flanks secured by the church and the merchant’s house he had no fear of them being turned by the remounted hussars. Walschen’s platoon was still detached and formed up facing back into the town to guard against any further surprises from that direction.
Closer, Brabenachel thought, watching the oncoming enemy column and gauging the moment. Closer. They’re not deploying into line! No doubt they seek to brush us aside through sheer momentum, but they’ll regret it. Those fellows are acting tired. There’s no go in them. A little closer… now!
“Now, gentlemen, if you will!”
His subordinates took up the drill. “Present your firelocks! Shoulder your firelocks! Aim! Fire!”
The volley crashed out, shredding the lead ranks of the oncoming column. It staggered and slowed. “Fall back and reload, gentlemen. Lieutenant Walschen,” he said, turning to address that worthy, “you may lead the way but keep pace with us.”
Colonel Brabenachel walked backwards, keeping his face to the enemy and checking the dressing of the ranks, but his subordinates were keeping them closed up. Mentally he measured off the distance left to cover until they reached the river. It’ll be close, but we can do it.